A femme fatal, rape revenge story? The perfect opportunity to give my straight, pastey white opinion!
Promising Young Woman is the directorial debut of Emerald Fennell that follows Cassandra, a scorned woman seeking to teach perpetuators of rape culture a lesson by duping them into revealing their true colors. As we learn more about her past and the tragedy that haunts her, her motives for revenge only intensify. Being my first film of 2021, I’m happy to say we’re off to a good start. This is a wildly entertaining and politically poignant thriller that has seemed to polarize some audiences with its approach to the “rape revenge” genre of films. With a name like Promising Young Woman, 100% intentionally copied from a descriptor of Brock Turner during his trial that referred to him as a “promising young man”, you just know the film is going to be brash and unapologetic with its themes and story.
Carey Mulligan portrays the sinisterly smart protagonist of the story, Cassandra. Seemingly dissociated with the world around her, she’s stuck living with her parents and working at a small coffee shop at 30. A previously unknown tragedy holds her back from progressing with her own life, becoming her sole motivator for targeting men with the nasty habit of taking advantage of drunk women. Cassandra walks the line between vigilante and criminal, crafting perfectly controlled scenarios in order to humiliate and psychologically torture her victims. Just when you think she’s gone over the line she reminds us she has yet to stoop to the level of evil as the people she’s targeted. Even without knowing exactly what caused her vengeful spree, Cassandra is easy to get behind because she’s living out the fantasy that I’m sure many women wish they could obtain. She’s not out for monetary gain, but emotional peace. Yet with each success we know (and she may know a well) it will never be enough. The pain she feels will most likely never go away, but she might just be able to distract herself from it.
Enter Bo Burnham.
The comedian and director of Eight Grade plays Ryan, a doctor that comes into Cassandra’s life and makes her believe their is a life beyond revenge. Burnham is exactly what you’d expect from him; goofy and kindhearted. Your enjoyment of him will vary depending on how you feel about his style of humor, which seems to translate directly from his standup to his performance. Ryan appears to be the light at the end of the tunnel for Cassandra, offering a chance to live a normal life. But as we learn more and more about Cassandra’s past, we know this won’t be the case, with a shocking revelation that turns the dynamics of their relationship on its head. Without spoiling it, it’s heartbreaking and maddening, especially with how it could have been resolved in the end.
The acting and story aren’t the only shining stars here, as the technical aspects were unexpectedly gorgeous and fitting. So many scenes were staged and designed with aesthetic in mind, both in framing and lighting. Nothing seems to be happenstance, as nearly every frame feels deliberately crafted and valid. The use of color to set the mood never feels overstated, yet can be quite vibrant at times. It reminded me of what Birds of Prey was, but more subdued, allowing it to naturally feel like part of the world rather than to simply be flashy. The soundtrack’s use of pop and hiphop is smartly saved for when it’s needed, whether it be to bring the scene together or to tell the story without the characters having to say anything. Sometimes it can overstay its welcome, but at least the song selection is fantastic, all pertaining to the theme of a girl looking to get even. That violin cover of Brittney Spears‘ “Toxic” is so chilling and foreboding; easily my favorite piece from the film.
While the film is funny at times, it never lets you forget that it’s a thriller bodied by deep and disturbing subject matter. The idea of a heroin seeking revenge against men that have wronged her isn’t a new concept. It’s been a sub-genre in B-movies for year, most famously taking form in Quinten Tarantino‘s Kill Bill saga. Yet this film calls upon very real experiences and fears that many women face day-to-day. Victim shaming, rape culture, and annoying as hell “nice guys” are the unholy inspirations for the story, drawing from all too familiar tales. While the film is pretty straight forward in its nature, the ending is what will really determine whether or not you like this movie, at least from what I’ve seen and heard so far. Without saying anything to sway your opinion of the film before going in, the ending is cruel with only a small smidgen of humor to attempt to make light of it. Its unrewarding, gloomy and offers little hope. For many, this will be a turn off after 100 minutes of badass woman’s journey. The way I see it, the film is choosing to reflect how the world really is and how, often than not, it doesn’t give us the ending we had hoped for. It tricks you into reveling in its escapism until it all suddenly crumbles. I was shocked by the ending, but realize what was intended with it. Closing with a small victory that is sure to anger many, I saw it as painfully honest except for one small smidgen of unrealistic expectations involving law enforcement. While it didn’t end on a completely satisfying note, I still respect it for having the gull to end the way it did.
Promising Young Woman attempts to balance unyielding emotional trauma with silly revenge scenarios to a somewhat successful degree. While the story sometimes lacks nuance and the point is continually hammered into your head, the film never fails to be thrilling, compelling and daring at points. It’s a film that can be an easy watch until it isn’t, forcing you to take in all of the evils of the world after you just chuckled at Burnham being a lovable goof. A great first directorial outing, a terrifically acted cast, and a cautionary reminder that’s it’s easy to be complacent until it happens to you.
Sweet and sour like a woman scorned, this martini is very similar to our protagonist Cassandra. While it may seem sweet and unassuming at first, this cocktail packs a powerful punch, courtesy of vodka infused with bubblegum. An addictive drink that only gets better the more you drink it, you’re reward for completing the martini is a tasty blowpop thats been soaking in the alcohol this entire time. Just when you think you’re done with the booze, it continues to follow you.
Parallels? What are those?
- 2oz bubblegum infused vodka
- 3/4oz Watermelon Schnapps
- 1/2oz lemon juice
- 1/2oz club soda
- Garnish: Blowpop
- To make the bubblegum vodka, soak 8-10 pieces of bubblegum in 1 cup of vodka for 8-10 hours, until the vodka turns pink and begins to smell like bubblegum.
- Shake the vodka, watermelon schnapps and lemon juice with ice.
- Strain into a chilled martini glass.
- Garnish with an unwrapped blowpop.